Keir Starmer has announced that he will step down as the leader of the Labour Party if he is found to have breached Covid rules as the police continue with their investigation into an allegedly rule-breaking gathering in Durham last year.
Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, the Labour leader said: “If the police decide to issue me with a fixed-penalty notice, I would of course do the right thing and step down.”
Starmer stressed that he is “absolutely clear” that no laws were broken during the incident and that the rules were followed “at all times”. He added: “I simply had something to eat while working late in the evening.”
Starmer began his statement by saying: “Ever since the first Covid lockdown, I’ve always followed the rules.” He told viewers how he and his wife had “agonised” over their decision to follow the rules at the time of his mother-in-law’s death.
He said: “The idea that I would then casually break those rules is wrong, and frankly, I don’t believe those accusing me believe it themselves. They are just trying to feed cynicism, to get the public to believe all politicians are the same.”
“I’m here to say that they’re not. I believe in honour, integrity and the principle that those who make the laws must follow them,” Starmer added.
“This matters. It matters because the British public deserve politicians who think the rules apply to them. They deserve politicians who hold themselves to the highest standards. And they deserve politicians who put the country first rather than themselves. They will always get that from me.”
Following the press conference, Angela Rayner released a statement. The deputy Labour leader said: “I’ve always been clear that I was at the event in Durham working in my capacity as deputy leader and that no rules were broken. Eating during a long day’s work was not against the rules.
“We have a prime minister who has been found to have broken the rules, lied about it and then been fined. If I were issued with a fine, I would do the decent thing and step down.”
The Times reported earlier today that the Labour leader was being urged by close colleagues to say that being fined for breaching Covid rules is a resignation offence for party leaders, so that he could take back the political initiative and continue to hold Boris Johnson to account on ‘partygate’ allegations.
Johnson and Rishi Sunak were both fined by the Metropolitan Police Service last month for attending an illegal gathering in Downing Street during the pandemic. The Prime Minister is being investigated for his participation in relation to 12 separate gatherings that may have broken Covid public health restrictions.
Footage emerged last year of the Labour leader drinking a beer and eating food with colleagues while campaigning for the Hartlepool by-election. Labour has said Starmer and his team stopped to have some food before returning to work.
“We were in the office, we were working, we paused for something to eat – there was no party, no rules were broken and that is the long and the short of it. And Durham police looked at it and decided there was absolutely nothing wrong,” the Labour leader said at the start of this month.
Covid rules at the time stated that indoor gatherings were legal if “reasonably necessary” for a campaign. An internal memo leaked over the weekend appeared to show that the dinner was a pre-planned event, and the Sunday Times quoted an unnamed source saying that Starmer did not return to work after his meal.
Durham Constabulary initially investigated the gathering last year when the footage was first made public and decided not to issue a fine to the Labour leader. The police force announced it would be reopening the investigation last week, however.
Wes Streeting insisted this morning that Starmer is not “dodging questions” over the allegations that he breached Covid rules after the Labour leader cancelled a speaking engagement with the Institute for Government this afternoon.
“The idea that Keir is somehow ducking scrutiny is simply not true,” the Shadow Health Secretary said, telling BBC Breakfast that he would not “even entertain the idea” that the Labour leader would be found to have broken Covid rules.